September 12, 2010
ORDINARY 24 (C)
There will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15: 10
Today we have three parables. The parable of the lost sheep draws our attention to the effort of the shepherd. He would have to traverse over craggy hillsides & deep ravines, rocks & stones, all the while keeping an eye out for predators. Finally, to carry back a 60 or 75 pound sheep on one’s shoulders over such ground is no small thing. The point is the exhausting effort, the drive, the dedication of the shepherd for one lost sheep. Keep that in mind.
In the story of the woman with the lost coin, once again the emphasis is on the great effort she expends to find it. Are we starting to get the picture?
Finally, there is the famous story of the Prodigal Son. Again, he is not the point. The Father & his efforts are. Imagine his going outside every night to watch for a hoped-for son who never comes: the sleepless nights, his anxiety. One day, just when he’s given up, he spots a figure. It’s his son turning into the farm & the father himself, an old man, forgets his dignity & runs down the stony path, embraces his son, and – like Jesus at the dinner table – does not even allow for any apology or a repentance speech, but silences his son’s stammerings with kisses. Again, the emphasis is on the worry, the concern & the effort of the Father.
It all reminds me of my favorite poem by Francis Thompson. It centers around the theme of divine pursuit. He called it, fittingly, “The Hound of Heaven.” In the poem he compares Jesus to a bloodhound who won’t let go of the trail no matter what, even as he, the poet, slipping into an opium habit, flees Him & leads Him on a lively chase. He writes:
“I fled Him, down the nights & down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; & in the mist of tears I hid from Him, & under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; & shot, precipitated, adown titanic glooms of chasmed fears, from those strong feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, & unperturbčd pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy, they beat – & a voice beat, more instant than the feet – all things betray thee, who betrayest me.”
This poem is all the more poignant if we remember that Francis Thompson had been a Catholic seminarian in his youth who left his studies & worked odd jobs until he tried his hand at poetry. He died in a London alley just outside the back door of a Catholic rectory in 1907. The hound of heaven, you see, is nothing other than the shepherd, the woman, & the prodigal Father.
How many people waste their time trying to earn forgiveness & reconciliation! These parables tell us: stop trying to earn forgiveness & just abandon your self to God’s searching mercy. God is seeking you more than you are seeking Him.
The Gospel is indeed a deep, profound revelation about an obsessed God. When we think of it, it is an overwhelming & humbling thought. It is also a motive for surrender. AMEN!